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An apple for the agent: insurers agents find urban markets take well to insurance education.

Today's savvy Web surfer can pick up home safety tips and get real-time quotes on policies and coverage with a click of a mouse! But for those on the other side of the digital divide, it's easy to feel intimidated about insurance issues. Insurance agents willing to tackle that intimidation factor are finding the effort can generate opportunity.

Suburban markets are saturated, while home ownership rates in urban areas are growing. According to data from the American Housing Survey, minority households and those in poverty continue to have rates of home ownership well below the norm, but these groups also showed the largest gains between 1991 and 2001. And this is a trend that could take root; Fannie Mae's American Dream program for first-time home buyers provides $2 trillion in private capital for 18 million minority and underserved Americans to own or rent homes by the end of the decade.

Glen Mancuso, an Allstate agent, has spent many weekends and evenings leading insurance education seminars for new, working-class homeowners; he's been doing it at Neighborhood Housing Services of Staten Island since 1981. "People have no clue what's covered," Mancuso said. "Everything's scary to them. But once you've taught them the basics, throw in a few fire extinguishers as door prizes, they tend to trust you. They know you're working after hours, and it means something."

Mancuso said he has written a few new policies each month from people he met at the seminars, or people referred by attendees. All the Staten Island clients Mancuso met through his experience at NHS still get policies through him, he said.

NeighborWorks organizations, such as Neighborhood Housing Services of Staten Island, have begun to implement insurance education programs with help from members of the insurance industry such as Mancuso, one of many industry participants in an alliance with the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. and Neighborhood Housing Services of America.

In the past four years alone, these national, nonprofit organizations, industry sponsors and 230 local chartered affiliates have created 40,000 new homeowners--many who would not otherwise have qualified for a mortgage--through a concept called full-cycle lending. It covers pre-purchase education for the home buyer, flexible loan products, property services such as safety inspections, and post-purchase counseling, including information on insurance services.

The NeighborWorks Insurance Alliance has the role of fostering effective working partnerships between local NeighborWorks organizations and the insurance industry.

The Alliance has provided grants and corporate support to amplify insurance education efforts in St. Louis, Chicago, Staten Island and Richmond, Va. Each city focused education efforts on its most chronic type of loss: fire in the Midwestern cities, flood damage in Staten Island and theft in Richmond. The "classrooms" were local NeighborWorks affiliates, which coordinated outreach for the events through churches, job fairs, other community organizations and business groups.

The seminars also have helped insurers tailor their strategies, said Todd Pittman, the Atlanta-based director of the Alliance. "We see more affordable and accessible insurance products created to suit community needs, and insurers are lessening their losses in each city," he said.

Insurers and agents wishing to find out more about the NeighborWorks Insurance Alliance, the National Risk Mitigation Program and steps they can take in their own communities through the NeighborWorks system can access

(Emmett Berg is a freelance writer in Santa Monica, Calif.)

Spreading the Word: Donald Davis, director of National Urban Markets and Community Development for St. Paul Travelers, teaches an insurance/home safety education class at Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. Davis has been conducting insurance education seminars in Chicago and St. Louis since 1998.
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Title Annotation:The Last Word
Comment:An apple for the agent: insurers agents find urban markets take well to insurance education.(The Last Word)
Author:Berg, Emmett
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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